Conscience

Rabbi Yeshua is the very center of our conscience. We are his image and likeness Gen 1:2627, follow him as sheep follow their shepherd. He taught us above all, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets”  Mt 22:3740.

The Dignity of the Human Person is nearly as central to our conscience, and Holy Mother Church has much to say about it. However, many Catholics seek a concise guide for ambiguous situations. This is it.

Lesser of Two Evils

Colin Donovan’s article, Is There a Lesser of Two Evils is a reliable guide to whether we can vote for a lesser of two evils. He quotes St. Thomas Aquinas. It is morally licit to vote for “the possible good, not the impossible good” ST I-II q13, a5.

The Catholic Church is absolutely pro-life. However, sometimes in the voting booth our choice is between an adamantly pro-life Catholic who has no chance of being elected, a broadly pro-life Catholic who allows a few exceptions, and a pro-abortion candidate. We therefore vote for the most pro-life candidate who could realistically be elected.

Our heart yearns to vote for the adamantly pro-life Catholic (the impossible good), but doing so may draw enough votes away from the broadly pro-life (the possible good) Catholic to elect the pro-abortion candidate.

A candidate who allows even a few exceptions is evil in those few respects, but St. Thomas says we should vote for him, the lesser evil, because the final result will be the fewest number of abortions. We always try to block the pro-abortion candidate who is the greater evil because he would allow the greatest number of abortions.

Each election has its own set of probabilities. If we believe the adamantly pro-life Catholic has a realistic chance of being elected then we vote for him because he would allow no abortions. However, if the probability of his election is very low the moral vote is for the most pro-life candidate who can realistically be elected.

If two Catholics disagree on whether the most pro-life candidate has a reasonable chance of winning, one might vote for the adamantly pro-life candidate while the other votes for the moderate candidate. Both have cast a moral vote because both intended to vote for the fewest abortions.

Elections are a common application of the “lesser evil” principle, but there are others. When we see a swimmer drowning, if Rabbi Yeshua has given us the gift of being an expert swimmer so we’re confident we can bring him safely to land, then we have to jump in. However, if there is an appreciable possibility that we will die in the effort we may have to just yell for help; loss of one life is a lesser evil than loss of two lives. And there are still other applications in medicine, law, attracting a lifelong spouse, and elsewhere along our journey to heaven.

Double Effect

§ 2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. The one is intended, the other is not.

Suppose a man and his wife in bed at night hear an intruder breaking into their home. They know Rabbi Yeshua “came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” Jn 10:10. The husband reaches for his gun and aims it as the intruder.

At the instant he pulls the trigger, as § 2263 says, the head of household saves his family’s life by killing the intruder. If his primary objective at that instant is to protect his family, and he regrets killing the intruder as a sad necessity, there is no sin. Every head of household is responsible for protecting all who are in his care, whether he lives alone or has a large family.

However, if at that moment the head of household is thinking, “I owe this man money; I could kill him now without anyone knowing,” he has violated the Fifth Commandment. We pay a terrifying price for even one unrepented mortal sin.

§ 1789 tells us that we “may never do evil so that good may result from it.” How can that fit together with the “lesser of two evils?” In, say, an election, we do not have control over the entire event. The election will go on whether we vote or not, so the “lesser of the two evils” is more likely to reduce the number of abortions than would be the case if we resolved to “do no evil” by not voting. In many situations doing nothing is  a greater evil than doing the best we can.

However, in the case of the home intruder, the homeowner may be an expert fighter who could reliably capture and hold the intruder until the police arrive. If an expert fighter homeowner killed the intruder it would be murder, a grave sin, because it was not necessary to protect the household.

More on Conscience and Morality